Shop Indie Bookstores
Moonglow, Michael Chabon, HarperCollins, 2016, 429 pp
Summary from Goodreads: In 1989, fresh from the publication of his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon traveled to his mother’s home in Oakland, California to visit his terminally ill grandfather. Tongue loosened by powerful painkillers, memory stirred by the imminence of death, Chabon’s grandfather shared recollections and told stories the younger man had never heard before, uncovering bits and pieces of a history long buried and forgotten. That dreamlike week of revelations forms the basis for the novel Moonglow,...
It is a tale of madness, of war and adventure, of sex and desire and ordinary love, of existential doubt and model rocketry, of the shining aspirations and demonic underpinnings of American technological accomplishment at mid-century and, above all, of the destructive impact—and the creative power—of the keeping of secrets and the telling of lies.
My reading in December has included so many great novels and this is one of them. Michael Chabon takes the memories of a week spent with his dying grandfather and by refiguring them as fiction, spins a yarn that covers how the history of that man's lifetime determined the history of the author's family.
Grandfather's history goes back to WWII, continues into postwar times when Nazi scientists were recruited for American development of both weapons and space travel, and continues on to demonstrate the ways that the past creates the present for individuals, families, societies, and even extends into the future.
The grandfather is a larger-than-life character. Because Chabon's week with him happened just after he had published The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, his first novel, anyone who has read his later novels can see influences from his grandfather's tales in the characters Chabon created later.
I found in Moonglow a more sober Chabon. Some of the freewheeling hysteria of his recent novels is subdued. Not that Grandfather was not a freewheeling character, not that he was not surrounded by hysteria for much of his life, but that the author in looking back now finds it also full of sorrows and a certain regret.
As much as I am fascinated by debut novels, when an author is often the freshest he or she may ever be and still sparkling with innocence, I realized while reading this one why I like the works of an author's later more mature work. Because no one can see the big picture of how one's life is embedded in the ways of the world around one until one is about half-way through. That big picture is sobering indeed as you see the interlocking pieces and how they formed the jigsaw puzzle that is your present.
One feature of the story I particularly liked was Chabon's growing understanding of his mother and his maternal grandmother. We all have at least one of the former and two of the latter. As children all we can do is love or, failing that, put up with them, but by middle-age we can see behind the scenes of their lives and understand some of why they shaped our lives as they did.
I think Moonglow may be best appreciated by an older reader though hopefully has much potential insight to reveal for a younger one. My only qualm after finishing it was wondering how long I must wait for the next Chabon novel. Well, there are a few of his I have not read yet, so I can console myself with those.
(Moonglow is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)